You were chewing on one or two breath mints, got thirsty, and reached for a glass of water. The water is refreshingly chilly. What’s going on? Is this caused by a chemical in the water or in the mint?
In reality, the water temperature remains unchanged. The chemical in mint called menthol activates a receptor in the mouth called Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily M Member 8 (TRPM8) fooling the brain into thinking the water temperature has decreased.
Let’s talk about this in a little more detail below.
Numerous research has shown that mint or specifically, the menthol compound found in mint changes human perception of temperature. The temperature is still the same, it’s just the human brain has been tricked by such compounds to believe the opposite.
What is going on here? Our bodies have temperature-monitoring sensory receptor proteins positioned inside the mouth called transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily M Member 8 (TRPM8).
When menthol comes into contact with TRPM8, it attaches to the receptor and causes sensitivity in TRPM8. When you drink water, those receptors that were already triggered are reactivated. The term for this is “thermal illusion.”
Despite the fact that the cool you feel is only a sensation that does not reflect reality large amounts of pure menthol can cause serious harm including seizures and coma.
According to a case study, a man developed acute symptoms of accidental menthol poisoning after cleaning a large menthol tank at a workplace.
Menthol is generally not unpleasant, however, a recent study found that pure menthol can cause cold pain at higher temperatures and aggravate pain at colder temperatures. Pure menthol will cause a burning sensation on the skin, this is why it is in diluted form in many products.
Both terms are often interchanged when mixed in cigarettes, candies, chewing gum, or other commercial products that have some kind of “cooling effect.”
Mint is a perennial plant that is used to: a) increase the flavor of sweet and savory dishes, b) give flavor to desserts, c) make tea, and d) as herbal cures for common ailments including indigestion.
Menthol is a chemical that occurs naturally in nature. It is derived from the oils of the Mentha plant which is a genus of the mint family. For commercial purposes, many firms use wild mint (Mentha arvensis), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and peppermint (Mentha x piperita) to extract menthol from. Apple mint (Mentha rotundifolia) is relatively newly cultivated in Europe for its apple taste.
Menthol is commonly utilized in food and nutraceutical items where a sensation of freshness is required. Chewing gums, breath fresheners, mouthwash, antacids, and toothpaste all have it.
Mentholated cigarettes are used by manufacturers as they make it possible for new smokers to withstand tobacco smoke and increase sales. The menthol has a soothing effect on the throat that makes smoking pleasant.
Because mint is thought to be healthy and refreshing, many people believe that menthol cigarettes are a better choice than non-mentholated cigarettes. However, evidence suggests that the hazardous effects of smoking are the same whether you smoke mentholated or non-mentholated cigarettes.
Adding mint leaves to lemon water gives water a unique flavor and aroma and also has numerous health benefits. It has a sweet flavor and a chilly aftertaste. Lastly, it aids digestion by increasing bile flow through the stomach. It contains anti-inflammatory qualities and is high in antioxidants.
Eucalyptol has the same effect as mint. It is derived from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus spp). This compound is also found in tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil, wormwood (Artemisia spp), and also in Cannabis sativa.
Just like mint, eucalyptus is used as a flavor enhancer in mouthwash and in toothpaste for its cooling effect and at the same time for its antibacterial properties.
Menthol has the same cooling effect when it is applied to the skin because the same receptor TRPM8 is also on the skin. Menthol has been used for many years to give relief to arthritic joints and muscle pains.
Products that are used on the skin that have menthol are: cooling balms, essential oils, fragrances, and cooling patches for muscle aches or headaches, and sunburn lotion.
Fruits like watermelon, peaches, apricots, tomatoes, pineapples, blueberries, oranges, plums, raspberries, and strawberries have mild cooling effects. This is because of their high water content (80% or more) and not due to interacting with thermoreceptors.
Some vegetables also have a cooling effect such as lettuce, zucchini, celery, and cucumber (each has more than 90% water). In addition, these vegetables do not only have water but are also high in nutritional content: cauliflowers, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli.
Keep yourself feeling fresh and hydrated in the summer with these delightful recipes that are seriously easy to prepare.
Prepare the following ingredients:
- 1/2 watermelon, seedless if possible and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 pint strawberries, cut in quarters
- 1/2 pint blueberries
- 1 medium-sized cucumber, sliced
- 1 pc lime, juiced
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 1 pinch salt (optional)
What To Do:
Combine all of the fruits in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the lime juice, honey, mint, and salt. Toss lightly the fruit mixture and the liquid until the fruits are coated. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or until the mixture has chilled.
Before we get to it, please have the following ingredients on hand:
- 1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 1 handful cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1 handful mint, coarsely chopped
- 1 lime, juice and zest
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar, grated or sugar
- 1 bird eye chili, chopped
- 1 handful peanuts, roasted and chopped (optional)
On to the preparation:
Combine the pineapple, cucumber, cilantro, mint, and green onions in a large salad bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili. Toss with the rest of the salad ingredients in the salad bowl. Serve with chopped toasted peanuts on top.
Ever wonder why when eating hot peppers you feel hot? What is happening to you with pepper is in principle exactly the same with mint.
Capsaicin, the oily chemical compound which gives pepper its spicy flavor triggers a different thermo receptor called Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily V Member 1 (TRPV1). This receptor, which senses an increase in temperature, is also present on the skin which is why when you rub hot pepper on your skin, you will also feel some heat.
Now another question, but why is it that not all spicy food gives you the same feeling? For example, why does wasabi burn your nose but not your tongue?
This has something to do with the size of the molecules in hot peppers and wasabi. Hot peppers tend to settle in the mouth because their molecules are big and heavier while wasabi molecules are smaller and lighter and tend to float towards the sinuses.
The Scoville scale is a standard rating for measuring the spiciness or “heat” of chili peppers and hot sauces.
|Name||Scoville Heat Units (SHU)|
|Pure Capsaicin||15 ~ 16,000,000|
|Standard Pepper Spray||2 ~ 5,300,000|
|Tabasco Habanero Hot Sauce||7,000+|
|Pepperoncini||100 ~ 500|
Research on menthol desensitization of capsaicin had the following conclusions:
- Menthol can deaden the effect of capsaicin on the TRPV1 receptor but for a limited time.
- The continued exposure to capsaicin (hot sensations) overrides the cooling menthol effects.
- The effect of menthol will lessen if you delay tasting menthol for 5 minutes.
So, do they actually balance each other out? Research indicates that the answer depends on the time interval between tasting menthol and capsaicin.
1. Menthol and capsaicin change our perception of temperature when it triggers thermoreceptors in our mouth and nose.
2. Menthol is used in the food and medical industry where a sensation of freshness is needed to convince customers to buy the product.
3. Some fruits also have a cooling effect but that is due to their high water content.
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“Ice Ice Baby: Chewing Mint Gum Doesn’t Actually Make Your Water Colder, It Just Feels That Way” by Dana Dovey in Medical Daily
“Why menthol chills your mouth when it’s not actually cold” by Anwesha Ghoah in The Conversation
“The Cool Flavors of Mint” by Bryan Quoc Le in Science Meets Food
“Menthol: What it Is, How it Works, and the Health Benefits” by n.a. in boom.boom
“Why Does Mint Make Your Mouth Feel Cool?” by Grant Currin in Live Science
“A fatal case of menthol poisoning” by Akshay Kumar et. A. in doi: 10.4103/2229-516X.179015
“Can Menthol Have Harmful Effects?” by n.a. in Poison Control
“5 Refreshing Summer Drinks to Cool your Body !” by n.a. in RxDx
“Eucalyptol” by n.a. In ACS Chemistry for Life
“Mint tricks the body into feeling cool” by Bill St. John in UCHealth
“What is the Difference Between Mint and Menthol” by Lakna in PEDIAA
“Hydrate Your Body with High Water Content Fruits and Vegetables” by n.a. In Ontario Equestrian
“Feel the Burn” by Gina M. Story and Lillian Cruz-Orengo in American Scientist
“What Is Menthol?” by American Thoracic Society in ATS Journals
“Menthol desensitization of capsaicin irritation. Evidence of a short-term anti-nociceptive effect” by B G Green and B L McAuliffe in DOI: 10.1016/s0031-9384(99)00221-8